J. Scott Applewhite, AP
The U.S. Senate is seen on Capitol Hill in Washington. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)

This weekend we celebrate American workers and the contributions they have made to the strength and prosperity of our country. Immediately after the holiday, our congressional leaders will return to work and take up the task of tax reform. As they do so, we want them to remember the needs of the hardworking Utahns who help make our state and country great.

The Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) is one of the most effective tools our nation has to reduce poverty. It promotes work and provides the extra boost needed for low- and middle-income earners to have a fair shot at a better life. With that goal in mind, the Westminster College Pro Bono Tax Clinic has helped thousands of families and individuals across the Wasatch Front with the preparation and filing of their state and federal tax returns since 1998. In 2017, we helped over 2,600 families and individuals, which brought over $4 million back to the community, of which about $1.6 million was from the EITC and CTC — money our community desperately needs.

This anti-poverty, pro-work credit helps working families keep their heads above water, but younger workers, workers not raising children at home and families with income just outside the current income thresholds are excluded from its benefits. Last tax season, we met and served many individuals and families who were at or close to the poverty line but did not qualify for EITC because of their income base or their age. In fact, 7.5 million Americans, hardworking people who could really use the EITC, shoulder a greater tax burden because they either fall outside the age limitation or the income threshold, making them ineligible for EITC, pushing them further into poverty.

Individuals in this group are noncustodial parents contributing to child expenses, veterans returning home and trying to find stable ground or younger workers paying for their own higher education and living expenses. These are people who could use the EITC to climb out of poverty and build better lives. I am not saying the EITC will save our community from poverty, but it is an enormous step toward helping families and individuals make ends meet and pay for necessities like food, shelter, clothing, utilities and school supplies for their children’s education.

Expanding the EITC for this group and lowering the age of eligibility to 21 would stabilize 13 million Americans, including 99,000 workers in Utah. Sens. Hatch and Lee, Congresswoman Love and Congressmen Bishop and Stewart, I implore you to protect the EITC and expand it for the 4,000 veteran and military service members, 44,000 workers ages 21 to 24 and 11,000 rural workers in Utah. Let the rest of Congress know the EITC is important to the people of Utah and makes a difference in our lives.

Emily Sharp Rains, LL.M of Taxation, J.D., is an assistant professor at Westminster College's Bill and Vieve Gore School of Business.